Wreaths, snow now adorn veteran graves

Ryan Klatt walks along with his daughter Abbie Klatt, center, and her Trinity Lutheran School classmate Grace Bailey, left, after helping lay wreaths at the headstones of veterans buried at Jefferson City National Cemetery during Saturday's annual Wreaths for Heroes Ceremony.

Ryan Klatt walks along with his daughter Abbie Klatt, center, and her Trinity Lutheran School classmate Grace Bailey, left, after helping lay wreaths at the headstones of veterans buried at Jefferson City National Cemetery during Saturday's annual Wreaths for Heroes Ceremony. Photo by Kris Wilson.

The graves at Jefferson City National Cemetery had two new additions Saturday morning: a fresh blanket of white snow and countless rows of red-ribboned wreaths.

By 9:30 a.m., volunteers had placed a wreath at each of the cemetery’s 1,587 gravestones as part of the annual Wreaths for Heroes ceremony that honors veterans by recognizing their past service.

The program, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of Lorraine Adkins. She and her husband, Pete, a World War II veteran, attended a Wreaths for Heroes ceremony. It was a rainy Saturday morning, she said, but the dismal weather wasn’t what captured her attention — it was the lack of wreaths and people in attendance.

“I looked at Pete and said, ‘You know, we can do better than that in this town,’” she said.

Through events like the wreath-laying ceremony, Adkins hopes to make more residents aware of the national cemetery and its historic significance. The cemetery was officially designated in 1867 and serves as the burial site for veterans of a number of wars and battles, including the 1864 Centralia Massacre.

Some of the graves, she said, date back to the Civil War era, a time when the limits of communication often prevented the families of fallen soldiers from finding out where their loved ones were buried.

“They might never have had a Christmas wreath until we started doing this four years ago,” Adkins said.

Snowy weather and slick roads couldn’t keep away the roughly 100 volunteers who showed up Saturday morning, many of whom were veterans and students.

David and Carolyn Lale of Jefferson City have been placing wreaths since the event began four years ago. David, who served in the Vietnam War and is a Purple Heart recipient, finds the chance to pay tribute to other veterans especially meaningful.

“It’s an honor to do something like this,” he said.

Alyssa Bruss, 11, a student at Trinity Lutheran School, said she was grateful for the opportunity to honor veterans by participating in the ceremony.

“It made me think that I was so glad they served for us, so we could be free,” she said.

Michael Betts, a representative from Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, said he was inspired by the number of people willing to donate their time in spite of the weather conditions. He had personally traveled from St. Louis to speak at the event.

“It’s always so awesome to see these things,” he said. “This is the only national cemetery I know of that puts a wreath on every grave.”

For Lorraine Adkins, the work is its own reward. At a post-ceremony breakfast at Prison Brews, she thanked the volunteers who had turned out and praised the community’s generous spirit.

A similar Wreaths Across America ceremony was planned for Saturday morning at Hawthorn Memorial Gardens, but the event was postponed until Monday.

Clarification: This news story may suggest that wreaths had never been placed on veteran’s graves in Jefferson City cemeteries before Wreaths for Heroes. In the 1920s and ’30s, a group of volunteers decorated the graves of area servicemen.

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